[Author’s Note: Following on from the success of the Indo-European Horsemen of the Apocalypse article we ran earlier this week, it seemed only apt to take a brief closer look at the mytholinguistics of a ‘Pale Horseman’. Particularly the ‘Pale’ bit. This is not to directly infer that the figure from the Book of Revelation is a deliberate Indo-European incorporation – but simply to look at a few of the resonancies of both our mythology and our linguistics that this evocative personage conjures up. [-C.A.R.] ]
“Death And Conflagration” – Albert Chmielowski, ~1870.
Now there’s a “Pale Horseman” – also, as a point of interest, there are at least three “Pel”/”Pelh” roots in Proto-Indo-European, subtly (or not even at all) differing in prospective reconstructive pronunciation.
One is, entirely unsurprisingly, whence we get our modern word “Pale” from – and in addition to its more ‘familiar’ meaning of a whiteness, refers to pallor, a situation of looking a bit .. corpselike. In fact, chromatologically, we would be speaking also of a certain sort of grey [compare Sanskrit: “Palita”], such as that of a funerary shroud. (I have previously made the case that this ties also to the colouration of Clouds and to Mountains, given its relative prominence in particular theonymic descriptors, also);
Another, refers to a covering – a skin, a hide, a cloth, or even, in extension, a protective element such as a hide-shield. You can see it in “Pelt”, and in “Pall”, as well as far more archaic terms such as “Pallas” [that epithet of Athena, referring to Her having a protective garment made out of the flayed skin of a fallen foe].
There are two such ‘coverings’, or cloaks, on show in this piece – the first being the ‘pale’ coloured one which swathes the Horseman Himself; the second, the pall of smoke or dusk which pours out from His burning brand across the horizon. [It is relevant here, also to note our ongoing work with the “Kel-” particle of Proto-Indo-European, and its figurative rendering as a “Veil”, whence how we get it meaning both “Night’ and “Death” in its subsequent Sanskrit formulation of “Kaal” … it, too, refers to a “covering”, and where the passage beyond something is perhaps uncertain, concealed, a Hall, a Hole, a Hell [these are all from the same “Kel” particle] wherein lies the Place of the Dead].
A third, is “Pelh” in the sense of an approach … and, as refinements would go, a strike, a drive, a charge, a thrust. [also, funnily enough, whence the modern English ‘interpolate’] ; a term of clear relevancy for an inexorably oncoming figure on horseback.
Although here, he seems in no heightened state of urgency. The brand he bears, burns slowly, but burns complete. I must confess, when first behelding this mighty image, I initially presumed it must have been a fairly modern piece – the outward and overt resemblance to the oil-fires lit by retreating Iraqi forces from Kuwait during the First Gulf War, is remarkable. Yet it presages those events by more than a hundred years!
A situation perhaps familiar to those who have listened to Holst’s Mars, and thought it most appropriate for World War One, only to find out that Holst himself appears to have composed it some months before the War began [and, in one of those dreadful muso-historical ironies, was apparently writing Venus “The Bringer Of Peace” at the time that Europe conflagrated itself from those powder-keg sparks in the Balkans].